Sexual Abuse impacts the whole family
Riverview Center, Inc. Galena
As an advocate for survivors of sexual violence I have always understood
that sexual violence took more than the innocence of a child or the voice away
from an adult. Sexual assault also affects the loved ones surrounding the
survivor. Parent after parent has walked through my center’s doors hoping and
praying for a way to take the pain away from their child or to let their child know
how much they wanted to protect them.
When I began four years ago as an advocate for the Riverview Center in
Galena, I had no idea how it would change my life. I simply wanted to help
people. Yet, every time a mother called to talk with me, I heard my mother voice.
Every time I worked with a male survivor, I saw my brother’s face. Every time I
saw a father cry, I saw my dad’s eyes.
In June 1996, my family was told that the priest at our parish in Dubuque,
Iowa had been sexual abusing at least 12 minor boys, and one of those boys
was my brother. He was 14 at the time.
My family learned of the abuse the day after my brother’s 8th grade
I had returned home from Iowa State University a couple of weeks earlier.
My mom had been calling me at school and asking what to do with my brother.
He had been acting out and just did not seem like the same kid. His teachers
used to praise him for his generosity and willingness to help others who were
struggling, yet that child seemed to have disappeared. As I sat through the
graduation mass, I wondered what was happening to him. I was scared for him,
and I wanted him to be happy.
The offending priest said mass during the graduation ceremony. I had
noticed a family in tears as the students walked up the aisle at the beginning of
mass, but I thought it was the emotion of the moment. Later I learned the truth.
The morning after the graduation ceremony, my mom was pacing back
and forth past the doorway of the bathroom I was in. Finally, I called her in to ask
what she wanted to say to me. She took a deep breath, and fumbling over her
words, she told me about getting a call, meeting with the parents who were
crying in church the night before and learning that our priest had molested my
brother and 11 other boys. I was holding a blow dryer. I wanted to throw it. I fell
into her arms, and we sobbed. I consider that day to be the day that changed all
of our lives forever - a life defining moment.
I now understood why those parents were crying during mass. They knew
what the priest had done to their son and 11 other boys, but no one else knew
yet. I had known the victims since my brother was in kindergarten. They came
over for play dates, sleepovers and birthday parties. I babysat most of them, and
I felt like a big sister to them as well.
I suppose my mom and dad knew the difficulties ahead, but they kept it
from me. The victims were interviewed and an investigation began. All at once,
articles were splashed across the front page of the newspaper, the abuse was
the breaking news on every television station, and news reporters would stand
outside the school waiting for students, parents, and teachers to walk by to ask if
they knew who the victims were.
A meeting was held in the church for concerned parents of the parish.
Everyone wanted answers. The betrayal of trust was almost too enormous to
comprehend. The Monsignor was nervous he would be blamed. Our parish was
divided between those who believed the children, and those who thought they
The Dubuque Archdiocese did not offer any support through this time.
There were no apologies, no condolences and no prayers. For my family, this
was the hardest to accept. We had been members of this church our whole lives.
We celebrated weddings, baptisms, first communions and graduations there. My
siblings and I attended the grade school for our entire elementary education.
How could it be that the Catholic Church was not there to support us?
I was furious. My mom would stay in her room and cry, sometimes all day.
My dad wanted to hide. His optimistic attitude would fail some days and I would
see tears well up in his eyes.
Parents of the victims would congregate at my parents’ home to support
one another. The parents wanted the priest punished and held accountable.
There were discussions of suing the Archdiocese. Law enforcement provided
weekly updates on the case. I was obsessed with understanding what had
happened, why it happened, and who failed my brother and our family.
My parents had to tell their parents _ all devoute Catholics. My
grandmother vowed never to go to church again unless the perpetrator was
convicted. Extended family members, neighbors, and friends of the family
needed to know. My parents did not want them to find out any other way. But the
telling and re-telling of the story added to the trauma.
By January 1997, the situation in my family was getting worse. The trial
was scheduled for February. My brother had started his freshman year at the
Catholic high school in town, but switched to a public school at the semester
break. He could not handle the religious aspects of the Catholic school. My
brother was suffering. He became suicidal. After talking to our psychologist, my
brother was committed to the psychiatric ward in the hospital. I had never
experienced anything like that before. Every night my family would go to the
hospital to support my brother. We prayed he would be safe and that he would
never need in-patient care again. That prayer did not come true. A few weeks
later he was committed again on the advice of our family psychologist.
I hated the priest. How could he put our family and others through this
much pain? My brother had been in treatment twice and the trial still was ahead.
What would testifying do to my brother and my parents?
I had never experienced a sentencing before, and I had no idea what to
expect. I had wanted to give a victim impact statement, but due to the number of
victims, only one person from each family was allowed to speak. My mom had
incredible strength and spoke for my brother and our family. Many others,
including the boy of the parents who cried during graduation, shared their stories
of hurt and betrayal. Still today I am in awe of the courage it takes for survivors to
speak about their experience.
I looked around the courtroom and was shocked by those supporting the
priest. During a break, a woman from the parish had gone to comfort the priest.
She did not believe the children. She did not have any sons. Perhaps the biggest
slap in the face was the testimony given by the Archdiocese on behalf of the
A week before the trial started, the priest pled guilty to eight counts of
lascivious acts and four counts of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse. He
was in prison from April 1997 to May 2001 before being paroled and transferred
to a treatment facility in Maryland, a place where many priests who are offenders
At the sentencing, news reporters were allowed inside the courtroom with
strict instructions not to videotape the victims. Instead, the 5 o’clock news
showed my mother giving her victim impact statement with the subtitle “Mother of
the Victim.” That night a friend of mine called to ask me what was going on. She
had seen my mother on the news. She was away at college, and I had chosen
not to tell her of the abuse. I rambled on and on trying to make up an excuse, but
there was no excuse. Confidentiality had been broken. The County Attorney
immediately called the news station and complained, but it was too late. The
damage was complete. I was amazed at the lack of respect for my family and the
victims. What had felt like a victory that afternoon in the Courthouse was ruined
by the reporter’s lack of compassion.
Family and friends suffer along with the survivor. They feel the guilt and
pain. My mother may never forgive herself for allowing my brother to be an alter
boy. My aunt felt awful that the priest officiated at her wedding two months before
the abuse was disclosed. My brother was an alter boy for her wedding
The aftershocks of my brother’s abuse continue to be felt.
Four years after the disclosure, my brother went off to college, and he
shared that our grandmother was secretly sending him money to entice him to go
back to the church and to attend mass. He tore up every check she sent him.
The last time my grandmother and my brother were together in our church was
for her funeral mass.
My brother continues to struggle with the aftereffects of being abused. In
Jan. 2002, he attempted suicide for the third time. My parents took him to the
hospital and he was kept there for in-patient treatment.
The sister of one of the victims has not set foot inside a church since she
learned of the priest’s abuse of her brother. In August 2003, their grandmother
passed away, and she refused to attend the funeral mass, because she would no
go inside the church.
In August 2003, my great aunt, a Catholic sister, invited my parents to the
convent to meet with her. She has given her life to the Catholic Church and
believed that the church would take care of the victims of abuse. Faced with the
reality that this was not true for my family, she had suffered in silence for 7 ½
years. But now, at the age of 86, she could no longer suffer in silence about her
feelings on the Church she donated 68 years of service to.
She told my parents that she had an in-person meeting with the
Archbishop of the Dubuque Archdiocese. She told him how much pain he caused
her and her family. She was hurt that every morning the Archbishop would walk
past my grandmother’s home on his way to the Archdiocese’s office. He knew
who my grandmother was, and that her grandson was a victim of clergy abuse,
yet he never once stopped to say a single word to her or my grandfather. She
told him that what he did was wrong, and he should have supported the children,
the survivors of this horrible crime. She told him that my family deserved a written
apology and a monetary settlement (which my brother did receive). She held him
accountable for his actions. It hurt my mother deeply to know that her aunt had
suffered in silence for so long.
I too have suffered in silence. I refused to go to church for several years
after the abuse occurred. I refused to get married in our family church because of
the bad memories. My brother cannot be a Godparent to my children because he
was not confirmed and does not attend mass. I have often cried on the way
home from work. When I decided to accept the position as Advocate at Riverview
Center, Inc, I did not know how I would change. I was not sure I could handle the
stressful position. The first time I entered the courtroom for a sentencing, I
flashed back to my brother’s sentencing. There have been times that I have
prayed to God to let me give up the pain and move on in my life, yet something
keeps me doing this job each and every day. I believe that I have been called to
help survivors of sexual violence, and I have learned that I cannot save my
brother or my family from their pain. I can, however, save myself. I have learned
to move past the pain, and to accept that forgiveness is necessary for me to heal.
When the judge in my brother’s case read the sentence out loud, I glared
at the priest’s family. They looked at me, and I gave them a vicious, smug grin. I
wanted them to feel the pain I felt. I realize now that they too were victims. They
were suffering along with everyone else. My mother used to say, “As much as I
hate being the mother of the victim, I thank God everyday that I am not the
mother of the perpetrator.”
Recently, I decided to resign from my advocacy position, and I have
accepted the role of Prevention Educator at Riverview Center. I have decided to
help prevent abuse from happening, instead of intervening immediately after a
crisis has occurred. In April, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I also have a two-
year old son. On maternity leave, I began to realize that I needed to let go of the
pain. I have worked so hard to help others accept the pain and move on, and
now it was my turn. I analyzed my behaviors, and I noticed I could not trust
anyone with my children. I had an overwhelming sense of fear. My children
deserve to have trust, and I need to let them grow into independent individuals. I
decided to go into prevention to feel hope.
No matter how much I want to, I cannot erase the past. I cannot change
the outcome for my family. We have learned to accept what has happened. I
know my brother will never be the same, but I have stopped asking, “why did this
happen” and “what if…” Those questions will consume you if given the chance. I
accept my brother for all that he is, and I am proud of his accomplishments. Our
family will never be the same, but we are stronger and wiser. We love each other
and try not to take each other for granted.
In the past couple of years, light has been shed on the sex scandal of the
Catholic Church. I am unable to comprehend the pain caused by the Catholic
Church. I am pleased that the Catholic Church wants to change their behavior,
and I have witnessed change within our Archdiocese. I am angry, however, that it
took so much pain to prompt the change. Our Archdiocese was not willing to
address the issue until the sexual abuse scandal spread around the country. It
was not enough for 12 young men to suffer.
In August 2002, the Archdiocese established a Review Board to revise the
policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of minors and to make
sure the there is accountability in their procedures. The priest who testified on
behalf of the perpetrator at the sentencing was appointed to the Review Board.
Our family psychologist, who assisted our family after the abuse, was also asked
to be a part of the board. After being appointed to the board, she called my
parents to tell them she wanted to be a part of this process for my brother and
family. She promised to keep our journey as a family in the back of her mind as
she helped develop a “Policy for the Protection of Minors,” which became
effective July1, 2003. As part of that policy, the Archdiocese is committed to
screening and background checks and trained individuals to provide outreach to
survivors. The Archdiocese will also educate on recognizing and responding to
Throughout this journey, I have remained Catholic. My entire family, with
the exception of my brother, attends mass weekly at our church. My brother will
never be Catholic again. He will never trust religion again. So for now, I continue
to pray for him.